In Next Gaza War, Israeli Army Eyes Crippling Hamas, but Not Toppling It

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Israeli forces during a maneuver simulating a war in Gaza, July 2019.
Israeli forces during a maneuver simulating a war in Gaza, July 2019.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The Israeli army has revamped combat procedures for the Gaza Strip, updating battle orders so that in a possibe war Hamas and its forces would be delivered a severe blow that would weaken the organization, but still leave it with the ability to govern the enclave.

The preparation process ended this week with a maneuver by the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division, its largest since the 2014 Gaza war, with the participations of brigade headquarters, hundreds of reserve soldiers, the Israeli air force and navy.

“There has been a most significant upgrade here,” IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said while visiting the military exercise. “I get the impression that there is very high readiness for a possible campaign in Gaza. We will continue preparing, on the assumption that a conflict could erupt any day.”

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Since assuming office in January, Kochavi has made preparing forces for Gaza fighting a top priority, with an emphasis on amping up the IDF’s “lethal” force. New battle orders call for a high-intensity campaign, which would be concluded much quicker than previous operations and wars in Gaza.

To this end, special weaponry has been procured, including some designed for fighting in underground tunnels, and firing plans have been developed to inflict damage to civilian infrastructure in the Hamas-controlled enclave. The IDF’s Gaza target bank has also been updated to include more members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In planning for a Gaza campaign, the military has also considered the possibility of it being a second front to a war that breaks out in Israel’s north. With the threat of Hezbollah missiles fired from Lebanon considered much greater than Gaza rockets, there is a concern air defense systems, including Iron Dome, wouldn’t be available as they are in a single-front scenario, potentially leaving southern communities exposed to rocket fire.

Israeli forces during a maneuver simulating a war in Gaza, July 2019.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

During the drill, forces also exercised fending off drone attacks, which have been carried out before by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Attacking and destroying rocket-launching cells in Gaza is also getting attention, and military officials assess the integration of advanced firepower and technological capabilities would lead to unprecedented results.

Ever since the firing of an anti-tank missile at a civilian vehicle near the Gaza Strip in the latest round of fighting in May, which led to the death of an Israeli man, the Gaza Division’s engineering forces have been focused on improving protection of both civilian centers and military forces

Some 120 armored fighting positions have been set up along Israel’s border with the Strip, and man-made hills erected. Some exposed roads were concealed by rows of trees, so as not to give Israeli residents in border communities the feeling they’re in a war zone.

The IDF’s Southern Command sees weekly Great March of Return demonstrations by Palestinians along the border as a test of the level of calm, and is satisfied with the downturn in the number of Gazan deaths over the past months, which is at least in part attributed to restriced open-fire orders.

In March 2018, when protests began, 22 Palestinians were killed. A month later, the number rose to 25 and May of last years was the most deadly month, with 84 dead. However, over the past three months, the Palestinian death toll was kept at a relative low, with four demonstrators killed. The Israeli military attributes the decrease in the level of violence to both sides’ commitment to show restraint, with talks between Israel and Hamas over the situation in Gaza ongoing.

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